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Human capital investment by the poor: Informing policy with laboratory experiments

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  • Eckel, Catherine
  • Johnson, Cathleen
  • Montmarquette, Claude

Abstract

The purpose of the study is to better understand human capital investment decisions of the working poor, and to collect information that can be used to design a policy to induce the poor to invest in human capital. We use laboratory experimental methodology to elicit the preferences and observe the choices of the target population of a proposed government policy. We recruited 256 subjects in Montreal, Canada; 72 percent had income below 120 percent of the Canadian poverty level. The combination of survey measures and actual decisions allows us to better understand individual heterogeneity in responses to different subsidy levels. In particular, participants chose between various cash alternatives and educational subsidies, for themselves and for a family member, allowing for the construction of two measures of willingness to invest in education. Two behavioral characteristics, patience and attitude towards risk, are key to understanding the determinants of educational investment for the low-income individuals in this experiment. The decision to save for a family member’s education is somewhat different from that of investing in one’s own education. Patient participants were more likely to save for a family member’s education, but in contrast to investing in one’s own education, a subject’s attitude towards risk played no role.

Suggested Citation

  • Eckel, Catherine & Johnson, Cathleen & Montmarquette, Claude, 2012. "Human capital investment by the poor: Informing policy with laboratory experiments," MPRA Paper 47782, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:47782
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Keywords

    Intertemporal choice; field experiments; risk attitudes; working poor.;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making

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